How We Got to Now

By Steven Johnson

I worry a bit that this is becoming the Steven Johnson fan club, but I am really enjoying his books recently. This one takes a look at history through the lens of what was made possible through the development of some key technologies, like glass and sanitation. Besides providing a plethora of fun trivia, like the fact that in the mid nineteenth century it was more practical to raise the entire city 10 feet than to tunnel under it to install a sewer system, or that chlorinating water reduced infant mortality by ~40%, the book provides a fascinating reframe of how we normally process history. Instead of looking at decisions made by individuals or trends embodied in governments and cultures, it asks "what couldn't have happened without this technology that did happen after it was invented?" Maybe not as immediately useful as Where Good Ideas Come From, but it's possibly a more approachable and enjoyable introduction to Johnson's style. Definitely check it out.